I started chortling in class yesterday during a lecture on Ignatius Loyola’s mystical theology. My professor, who already thinks I’m strange since I interned at the Ayn Rand Institute last summer and have a habit of tearing up during lectures in which heretics and other historical figures are executed, looked at me sharply.
“Morales! What’s so amusing?”
I explained that, many years ago, I was told that the Bene Gesserit of Frank Herbert’s Dune series had been based off the Jesuit order, and that I’d been thinking of that the whole time I was reading The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Dr. M—- asked me to elaborate.
After explaining that the Jesuits evolved into a far-future all-female religious order that controls education throughout the universe, masterminds a creepy eugenics program (until the Worm Who Is God comes around), literally has a collective consciousness, and plants the seeds of religious messianism everywhere they go, everyone in the class (including my professor) was laughing, and Morales got some extra weird points.
In any case, the unusual jocularity the above incident unleashed carried over through the rest of the period, during which everything about Ignatius Loyola seemed absolutely hilarious to absolutely everyone. I believe I must be a miracle-worker, as Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises are almost as terrifying as Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Church. And we all know how much Calvin frightens me.
I really have no desire to get into epistemology today, but briefly: Iggy (that’s what all the cool History majors call him) embodies an interesting paradox in Counter-Reformation theology. He was influenced by the contemporary currents of Spanish mysticism, emphasizing a personal piety and deep emotional connection with God, but was also very, very, very institutional. Personal prayer did not imply an unnecessary Catholic Church. Example:
If we wish to be sure that we are right in all things, we should always be ready to accept this principle: I will believe that the white I see is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it.
In this way, he imbibed mystical ideas without taking the Protestant route toward private interpretation of Scripture. But then, unlike Luther, Calvin, and co., he was an ex-military man (the Exercises abound with references to being a spiritual “knight”) and highly valued order and discipline.
That’s the theme of the Exercises‘s first week in the “Particular Examination of Conscience” (and the spark for more outrageous hilarity in Dr. M—-’s class). He begins with a chart that looks something like this:
[I feel like this is becoming one of this dreadful "Read to the Bottom!" emails. Alas.]
The idea is that each “G” stands for a day of the week. On Sunday, the largest G, the person making the exercises chooses a particular sin. Dr. M—-’s example: being late to class (said as he skewered the young man in front of me with a glance. For months this semester, I wasn’t even sure why the young man in front of me even bothered coming to class, considering he was always late, blocked my view of the whiteboard, and spent the entire period “taking notes” on his laptop… otherwise known as visiting Facebook and Star Trek forums. But then I saw him set up GarageBand to record the lecture, and everything fell into place.)
Each day, then, the young trekkie in front of me would tally up how many times he was late to class on Sunday, then Monday, then Tuesday, and so on. The Gs get smaller each day because a truly disciplined spiritual knight would be improving throughout the week.
All very logical, and possibly the inspiration for Benjamin Franklin’s outrageous moral perfection chart some centuries later.
The only thing that bothered our class was the question of what–for the love of God–the “G” stood for.
Dr. M—- suggested giorno, the Italian word for day; but of course Loyola wrote in Spanish. Italian and Spanish have many cognates but this, unfortunately, is not one of them. We racked our minds but couldn’t think of anything else. Dr. M—- and I chortled like co-conspirators.
Indeed, I determined I would find out, if I had to tear apart the entire Internet to do it.
Getting back to my dorm, I wondered if perhaps G stood for God. Maybe in the original Spanish, the letter had been D for Dios, and the translators changed it. With this happy thought in mind, I began to comb Spanish Jesuit websites for the original text. No good. The original Spanish had “G” too, and seemingly no reason for it. I despaired that this was to be forever a divine mystery in my mind, tormenting and mocking me. I would never sing the alphabet song with fondness ever again.
But then I found another copy of the Spanish text online, and–miracle of miracles!– it included the annotation that G is for Grande (Spanish for big, or large). This actually makes perfect sense, since the sins are to be larger on the first day than the second, seventh.
Thus I have written this post for the other despairing students out there who wonder what the heck was going through dear Iggy’s mind (too much self-flagellation that day, I suppose). And to make things even easier, I’ll include some phrases said students might search:
Ignatius Loyola Spiritual Exercises “G”
What does “G” stand for in the Spiritual Exercises?
Particular Examination of Conscience “G”
Friggin confusing directions Loyola
Hopefully, this will be of help.